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food science books?


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This is a bit off topic, but did anyone else read John Thorne's review of the new McGee in Saveur this month? I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise that the author of Simple Cooking had few good things to say about it, but it seemed overly critical, and inappropriately so.

For example, while there is certainly a lot of "scientific jargon" in the new McGee, there is a great deal that is NOT jargon -- and jargon is another word for precise, discipline-based language anyway. I dunno... it seemed like a editing stunt that didn't work.

edited for formatting -- ca

Edited by chrisamirault (log)

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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well, john's a terrific writer and a very interesting, challenging thinker. he has written some very good reviews that i really disagree with and i think this is one of those. to me, the mark of a good review is not whether i agree with it or not, but whether i am clear where the author stands and why. by those standards, i don't think you can argue that john didn't write a good review.

i think hal's book struck a nerve with john, who is very much an experiential (as opposed to experimental) cook. i guess i'm somewhere in the middle, so i was able to take a more distanced view. one thing that i do agree with john about is the way all this food science stuff--unintentionally, to be sure--can actually serve to make cooking seem more complicated and difficult, rather than the opposite. someone interviewed me for a story a couple of weeks ago and wanted to know if people could cook well without understanding the maillard reaction.

Edited by russ parsons (log)
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First a disclaimer . . . I haven't read Thorne's review. But, just conceptually, I am not sure I understand why a reviewer would give a book a bad review if it isn't what he wants or thinks it ought to be. McGee's book doesn't claim to be anything but a science book. If you don't want to read about the science of cooking and cook "experientially" knock yourself out. Just don't read the science books. And don't blame a book about science for being . . . um . . . about science.

I, for one, enjoy every cooking science book I can get my hands on, every one of them, wherever they are in the spectrum. But then, I am a science geek.

My suggestion for choosing books of this sort is to get them all!

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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I suppose I'm just offended by the notion that more information than one needs is a waste and that's how I read Thorne's review. I can't think of a greater richness than owning a book with information I just may want some day. I have at times been stingy enough to buy a book that just had the information I needed at the moment, but I'd not imply the other books had too much information for anyone. I honestly think it's terrific that Saveur looked for and found a dissenting voice, but when Thorne asked if McGee's book would be of any help in making gravy when the turkey was already on the counter, I had to wonder what his point was. Perhaps there are many people who already have more information than they can handle, but I'll continue to champion the idea that we can all learn more and put that knowledge to good use. A little knowledge may be a bad thing, but I've never heard that said about a lot of knowledge. Few people probably need McGee's book, but that won't change my opinion that those who read it can profit from the knowledge therein.

I don't think it's a good review. I think it misses the point and beauty of the book in it's attempt to find fault with knowledge.

Robert Buxbaum


Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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that's an interesting point bux, and i probably agree with you more than not. but i do sometimes think that in becoming popular, the science of cooking has kind of become just one more collection of useless information that certain kinds of people collect without ever acting on. now, as a lifelong collector (and professional promoter!) of next-to-useless obscure information, i don't have much of a problem with that. but i can understand how others might get cranky about these endless wonky conversations that rarely seem to lead to anyone actually cooking dinner.

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